By Annalena Mcafee
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307957344, 304pp.)
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
A dark hyper-comedy set in London in the late 1990s during the last gasp of the newspaper wars just before the dot-com tidal wave--about two female journalists at opposite ends of their life and work who become locked in a fierce tango of wills and whose lives are forever changed by their (not-so-) brief (head-on) encounter.
At the novel's center--a legendary prize-winning war correspondent (called in her day "The Newsroom Dietrich" because of her luminescent beauty) now in her eighties, at the end of her career, who, over the decades, as the intrepid golden girl of the press, has been on the front lines or in the foxholes of every major theater of war of the twentieth century (Madrid; Normandy; Buchenwald; Berlin; Algiers; Korea; Vietnam). She is recognized everywhere (she finds fame mortifying these days); lionized for her fearless, politically informed, objective reporting; and now, though fragile and in an accelerating decline, her goddess-like beauty long gone, her style of writing--unbiased reportage--obsolete in the age of New Journalism, is rediscovered with the reissue of her frontline journalism, and the about-to-be-published collection of her Pulitzer Prize-winning dispatches. The other, a young up-and-not-so-coming reporter in her twenties; a degree in media studies, a freelance editor who compiles A-lists (Ten Best / Ten Worst; What's In / What's Out) for a down-market magazine of a newspaper specializing in celebrity gossip, unexpectedly sent to write a feature on the venerated "doyenne of British journalists"--to get the dirt on her glittering Hollywood days, her many affairs and three marriages...What ensues is a high-stakes, high-risk battle of wit and wills as lives are shaken, secrets unearthed, and headlines blast (unconfirmed) "truths," with one newspaper--the spoiler--playing off against another in a ruthless, desperate grab for sensation and circulation.
ANNALENA MCAFEE was born in London and was educated at Essex University. McAfee has edited a collection of literary profiles, Lives and Works, and is the author of eight children's books. She has been a judge of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the South Bank Show Awards, and the Ben Pimlott Prize for political writing. She lives in London with her husband, the writer Ian McEwan.
“McAfee skewers the Fourth Estate with an insider’s insight, cutting wit and razor-sharp writing.”
—Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review
“Sparkles with tabloid bravura . . . a dark hyper-comedy.”
“Spirited . . . [McAfee] writes with poise and polish, using her reportorial eye to create a fictional world that feels like a fun-house mirror of journalism from the late ‘90s . . . [that] could not be more timely. . . . McAfee manages to fuse satire and observation together in a potent brew. In doing so, she creates a blackly comic, Waugh-esque portrait of a newspaper . . . peopled with hacks, has-beens, poseurs and some genuine reporters, rabidly ambitious youngsters and weary old-timers, pretentious literary types and gutter-minded twits.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“McAfee . . . highlights the slide of media reporting from serious to scandalous as she crafts a story that catches journalism on the cusp of the electronic age.”
“McAfee’s assured grasp of the journalistic milieu . . . skillfully pillories the journalists’ anxieties about the coming ‘digital dystopia.’”
—The New Yorker
“Enjoyable to read . . . a larkish spirit of farce [and] wicked fun . . . dances the story along.”
“An acid satire of London newspaperdom . . . spiky, vivid, and almost pathologically clever.”
“A sharp, intelligent novel about ‘old’ journalism, ‘new’ journalism and the moral gap between the two . . . McAfee writes with sparkling intelligence and raises serious issues about the relationship between reporting and truth.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
“A dark, sparkly gem of a book: smart, knowing, funny, tragic: Miss Havisham meets Sex and the City. I don’t know how Annalena McAfee pulled off such a balancing act, but I very much hope she goes on writing novels of this quality. A stunner.”
“A witty and entertaining debut about two very different worlds of journalism.”
—Alex Clark, The Guardian